Graphic reading: KDE News, Kentucky Department of Education

The Kentucky Reading Academies, which brings the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) professional learning opportunity to educators across the Commonwealth, launched Phase 1 of its new statewide professional learning course during a Zoom kickoff event on Aug. 23.

The purpose of the Kentucky Reading Academies is to increase reading outcomes for elementary students by providing high-quality, job-embedded professional learning about how students learn to read to K-5 teachers and administrators.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has allotted $10 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to support LETRS. Senate Bill (SB) 9, the Read to Succeed Act, provides an additional $22 million to support sustainability.

“This act includes specific policy changes that will be first steps in a long-term effort to improve learning outcomes for all Kentucky students,” said Micki Ray, chief academic officer in KDE’s Office of Teaching and Learning.

SB 9 includes several comprehensive actions to improve early literacy outcomes, such as: fully funding the Read to Achieve grant; providing supports for early intervention and instruction, including valid and reliable universal screeners; and diagnostics aligned to the essential components of reading and reading improvement plans for students. It also promotes family and community engagement and establishes a fund for state professional learning support strategies.

LETRS is an evidence-based training that provides educators with professional learning grounded in reading research. The reading research represents a body of comprehensive and multi-disciplinary evidence for how students learn to read and write proficiently, why some students struggle and how educators can teach and intervene if necessary. Through LETRS, teachers gain essential knowledge to master the fundamentals of literacy instruction required to transform student learning and create a more vibrant experience for all young readers.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass said that there is much work to be done in order to make up for some of the experiences students missed out on during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that there is work to do, but resources are here along the way. We are excited to offer this LETRS training and we are excited about literacy in the state as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Glass. “If you don’t hear it enough, … thank you for all that you do for our kids and our communities. We are so grateful for you.”

Christie Biggerstaff, director of early literacy in KDE’s Office of Teaching and Learning, said effectively teaching literacy is one of the most essential factors for student success.

“This kickoff is the beginning of Kentucky taking ownership of this challenge, and saying we are ready to get back in this race for the betterment of our future and our students,” said Biggerstaff. “The challenge can and will be met. I know the people participating in LETRS want the best for our students; that is why you’re here. I’m so excited to get started on this journey with you.”

Ray told those in attendance at the kickoff that “you are here because early literacy matters to you. You are making an investment in it, and I am so excited to go on this journey with you and to see the impact on students in Kentucky.”

For individuals who were unable to attend or could not join the meeting, a recording of the KDE Welcome and LETRS Kickoff will be shared with Phase 1 LETRS participants via email on Monday, Aug. 29.

For more information, visit the Kentucky Reading Academies webpage.